A common question that I often get asked is “what needle size do I need?”
Most commercial wools will have on the ball band a recommended needle/hook size as part of the information included like fibre content and meterage and weight, so this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask! The reason I don’t include a recommendation however has a bit of a long explanation which definitely doesn’t fit on a skein label, so I thought I would take the time to explain here.
When you’re deciding what size needle/hook to use for a project there’s a few things that come into consideration. Firstly, the type of garment that you intend to make will determine the fabric that you want to create. For example, a pair of socks are going to have a much closer knit fabric than a lace shawl which would be much more loose and open, your needle/hook size will play a big part in how that happens; the socks will require smaller needles than what you would need for the shawl (in sock weight yarn, I use 2.5mm needles for socks, for a shawl I use maybe 4mm on average). So already we have a few options.
The other major factor that comes into play is your tension, or in other words, how tightly or loosely you work. Tension is going to be different for every crafter and this will affect the gauge of your work. Gauge is a word for measuring how many stitches per inch you have in your worked fabric; how tightly or loosely you work your stitches will affect your gauge.
When we are following a pattern, the designer will outline the gauge you are aiming for to achieve what they have set out in the instructions (which is incredibly important if you’re making a garment that needs to fit like a jumper), and this will determine what needle/hook you choose. Any pattern designer worth their salt will highly recommend that you knit/crochet a small square (a swatch) to measure your gauge before cracking on with the main project (and if you’re really well disciplined you’ll wash and block it before measuring). If you have too many stitches per inch, you could size up your needle/hook and if you don’t have enough, size down (and if you’re really lucky it will be bang on!).
So to put this into context, you and I could both attempt to knit the same shawl and use the same needles but the resulting shawls could come out at totally different sizes because of our tension. You might work stitches really loosely, I tend to keep them a bit tighter. For this reason, it’s not going to be very useful for me to recommend a single needle/hook size on the yarn labels.
So I know what you’re thinking, thanks for over complicating it Hannah, now what do I do?
Personally, I look for patterns that use yarn of the same weight as what I have in hand, e.g. sock weight/fingering weight, DK, aran etc. I will then check out the gauge that they are achieving and try to match that with the needles they recommend in the pattern, make the swatch, give it a measure and then decide how to proceed from there. It’s not quick but if I’ve spotted a pattern and REALLY want the thing they have made, it’s the only way I can be sure I’m about to invest my time wisely and finish up with that gorgeous thing I’m looking at in the picture.
So when you’re considering what needle/hook size to go for, to me this is asking the second question before you’ve firstly worked out what you actually want to make. My mental process asks what do I want to make and then which needles do I need to use to achieve that.
I told you I wouldn’t be able to fit that on a label…
As always, if you have any thoughts or questions, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org, I like to think I’m a friendly face 🙂